Berksy Trolley #101

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A postcard from perhaps the late 1970s.

The Berksy Trolley has the distinction of being the only piece of passenger equipment that was not restored, but actually created by WK&S volunteers in 1971. The trolley began as a two-axle chassis from a brakeman's jitney car. This de-motored car was acquired from the Reading Company along with another powered car. The pair of cars would have been used to shuttle brakemen in hump yards that lacked automatic car retarders. The pair briefly offered passenger rides at the WK&S before the trolley was built. Otherwise, I don't recall that the powered car was ever much used and I believe it was disposed of in the mid-1990s.

Starting with the stripped jitney car chassis, the volunteer team of Al Walker and Ethan Bond fabricated a trolley body from steel. The Berksy featured a trolley control stand at each end, vacuum brakes and seating for 15-20 passengers. First it had a Cadillac engine, but that was soon replaced with a tamer straight-six and two-speed automatic transmission from a 1962 Chevy Nova. The trolley was named after the "Berksy", the local passenger train that once plied the line between Reading and Slatington. The trolley mostly operated weekends during the early spring and late fall when ridership numbers didn't justify the steam train. For a time during the 1970s and early 1980s the trolley also operated summer weekday service making the WK&S a seven days per week operation. And beginning in 1975 the trolley was the only piece of equipment to regularly operate on the track south of Kempton. The trolley had a tow bar hitch on the north end and would sometimes power a train of MOW work cars. I have fond memories of the Berksy Trolley. I particularly remember those autumn Saturdays in late September and October. Unfortunately my enthusiasm wasn't shared by other volunteers. Most considered the trolley to be a mundane piece of equipment. By the late 1990s the trolley was due for a major overhaul. But an overhaul was not to be. 1997 was the year that the trolley was replaced by a conventional train comprising diesel locomotive #7258, the open car and a coach (usually Lackawanna #582). In 1999 the trolley was sold to the Coastal Heritage Society of Savannah, Georgia.

The two pictures below are from a 1971 newspaper clipping and show the trolley under construction on the pit track with Al Walked (right) and Ethan Bond in the welder's helmet. These pictures also date construction of the pit track. The trolley sits on the beginnings of the pit track; note the deficiency of crossties and the lack of join bars. The second picture shows it to be a standalone piece of track at this time. Other pictures from 1971 confirm that there was no switch.

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Berksy under construction in 1971.

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Berksy under construction in 1971.

The Berksy appears to have had three paint schemes. As shown by the picture below, the first scheme was no scheme at all. The trolley appears to have run for one or more seasons without any number, lettering or other decoration. The second and best scheme is shown in the next picture. The trolley featured some flashy striping with "Berksy 101" on the ends and "Ontelaunee Valley Transit" on the sides. Ontelaunee is the name of the creek along which much of the WK&S runs. The third, final and worst scheme is the solid orange scheme. It looks like a pumpkin.

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An older shot of the Berksy. Note the lack of any lettering.

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Another postcard shot of the Berksy approaching North Albany in 1982.

The four pictures below are from the mid-'90s and show the trolley in its final all-orange paint scheme. The pictures were taken by my grandfather and show me and my grandmother.

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Photo by John Zweizig.

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Photo by John Zweizig.

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Photo by John Zweizig.

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Here's an interior shot of the Berksy. The box in the middle covers the engine and transmission. Photo by John Zweizig.

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When the trolley was replaced in 1997, GE locomotive #7258 had been mechanically restored, but not painted.

In 1999 the Berksy Trolley was sold to the Coastal Heritage Society of Savannah, Georgia. The pictures below are from the Georgia State Railroad Museum and show that trolley has been converted to a streetcar. I believe the first picture is from about 2001. The car looks freshly refurbished. But the car looks faded and beat-up in the second picture from around 2008. My impression is that the streetcar was built as sort of a working mockup to demonstrate the potential of bringing streetcar service to downtown Savannah. I don't know that the car was ever actually used in a revenue capacity.

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The trolley in Savannah.

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The trolley in Savannah.

In September 2016 our old Berksy was moved to the Craggy Mountain Line near Asheville, NC. Plans are to restore the trolley to revenue service. Apparently the trolley still has its original drive train and was running under its own power within a week of delivery.

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The trolley at the Craggy Mountain Line.

As noted above, the trolley chassis was originally paired with a powered car. Early on the powered car was occasionally used by the WK&S for maintenance of way. But I don't recall ever seeing it run. It was dubbed the "Green Hornet" (because it was green). The picture below is from the 1990s soon before the Green Hornet left the property.

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The "Green Hornet". Photo by Keith Dorn.

As also noted above, the trolley started off as an un-powered "jitney car". But I'm not sure what it looked like. It might be that primer-red thing shown in the picture below. The picture is probably from the 1960s and the car sits behind the Green Hornet (which is yellow in this picture). Note WK&S #2 in the background and WK&S #20 in the foreground. If this is the car in question than the existing body would have been completely scrapped before the trolley was built.

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Pre-Berksy?

When the WK&S first opened for business back in 1963 the town of Kempton was still controlled by the Reading. After the Reading abandoned rail operations in Kempton, the WK&S acquired about another mile of track from Kempton south. The southern terminus was designated "North Albany". Eventually the track south of N. Albany was scrapped and the WK&S became a landlocked railroad. The history of the Berksy Trolley is invariably tied to this short section of track. There were some early attempts to run steam trains to N. Albany. But these attempts were impractical because there's no run-around at N. Albany and the added distance didn't fit with the railroad's hourly schedule. But since the trolley was bidirectional and required no switching, it could make a round trip between Kempton, Wanamaker and N. Albany in about the same time it took the regular trains to make a round trip between just Kempton and Wanamaker. This was the tradeoff that the trolley offered. It may not have been as glamorous as the steam train, but passengers got to see a section of the railroad not otherwise traveled. The end of the trolley also marked the decline of the track to N. Albany. An occasional charter train might have wandered down to N. Albany now and again. But by the mid-2000s the track was no longer actively maintained. Not even the annual weed spray truck went to N. Albany after 2010. The track in the town of Kempton is still used occasionally to transfer equipment between rail and truck.

Shown below is a charter train at N. Albany in 2000. Click for details. This would have been one of the last trains to opearte to N. Albany.

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Charter train at N. Albany in 2000. Photo by Randy Kotuby.